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Talented Women

Leaving the Law:

Could Marketing
Demands Play
a Role?
By Terrie S. Wheeler, MBC

t’s almost a crisis. Every year, thou-
sands of women attorneys leave either
their firm or the profession entirely just
as they reach the peak of their profes-
sional life. We’re not talking about over-
worked, frustrated associates but successful
women who are partners.
Numbers paint to only part of the pic-
ture. While just under one-half of law
school graduates are women who get hired
as first year associates at a proportional
rate  – 44 percent of new hires – they fall
behind rapidly. Nationwide, the ABA re-
ports that women make up only 22 percent
of all partners, 18 percent of equity part-
ners and just over a quarter (28 percent) of
non-equity partners.
The trend lines are alarming. In 2012,
women made up 33 percent of attorneys
in private practice in the United States; by
2016, the last year for which statistics are
available, that number rose to just 36 per-
cent – while the number of lawyers jumped
dramatically over the same period.

Finding Time to Market:

Could This Present
a Problem?
Having young children plays a role but
so does money and the lack of time avail-
able to pursue marketing activities out of
the office.
I have worked with many successful
women lawyers. So how do they juggle
the demands of private practice and rais-

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ing children with the pressure to develop What You Can Do with It was while coaching Julie we learned
new business? The lawyers with the great- she was increasingly disillusioned with
est success have spouses or partners who a Law Degree: A Case Study practicing law. We spent several of our ses-
masterfully manage – or play a major role Julie Jones (name changed for this ar- sions exploring her disaffection, which she
in managing – the home front. They are in ticle) is a prime example of a woman flee- thought at first was with the firm. Finally,
a partnership that is not bound by gender ing the profession, and what she ended up Julie concluded that she was tired of the law
stereotypes, like the many women lawyers doing. and wanted something different for her life.
I have heard over the years opine they Julie practiced commercial real estate We helped Julie research the options and
“wish they had a wife.” In two-career fami- law for nine years in a larger firm. She’d found that she had more choices than she
lies, something’s got to give. Many families made partner after six years, chaired one ever imagined. Businesses and organizations
today make decisions to go all-in to sup- committee and served on two others. truly value professionals with law degrees.
port the partner with the highest income But with three small children at home, Within six months she left the firm. Julie is
earning potential. she wanted regular hours, less stress now working as the executive director of a
If the brunt of the responsibilities at from clients and their huge development successful nonprofit helping families and chil-
home fall squarely on the shoulders of deals, and less pressure from the firm to dren secure the health care services they need.
mom, finding the time to do marketing, increase both her billable hours and rev- Getting to this point in her life was a long and
can be difficult, if not impossible. There enue goals each year. So, she left the firm winding road, but one she wouldn’t change.
are many ways in which women lawyers where she’d practiced since graduating
can be successful in marketing, as I wrote from law school for a much smaller, sub-
about in a previous article, Marketing Best urban law firm. Expanding your Opportunities
Practices for Women Lawyers (Attorney at Julie spent three years as a partner in For many women, discovering that there
Law Magazine, November 2016). the smaller firm she once thought offered is both a world beyond law firms and a
Still, dollars and kids tell only part of the a panacea to life in a larger firm. Yes, her wide range of intriguing opportunities in
story. The ABA wants to learn how to keep hours were more-or-less regular and the other fields with fewer harsh demands on
more women practicing law so in April pressures from clients and billable hours their time may explain part of the exodus.
2017, it formed a commission to conduct were much less. But, she was expected to But, so far, all anyone is doing is mak-
a detailed study of the issues facing women devote time – a lot of time – to generat- ing semi-informed guesses and drawing
lawyers in private practice. Continuing ing new clients, which is how we met Julie reasonable but untested conclusions. So,
into 2018, the ABA is conducting research because she needed one-on-one business it’s good that the ABA is taking nearly
using surveys and focus groups to analyze development coaching; she was more than two years to examine the issues in depth.
the career trajectories of women lawyers, 10 years out of law school and, except by Hopefully, it will come up with some con-
the attrition rates in different practice set- accident, had brought in relatively few new crete answers as to why so many talented
tings, and how the demands to produce clients. Julie Jones are leaving the law behind.
new business impact the success and lon-
gevity of women lawyers.
Janel Dressen, a litigation partner at
Minneapolis-based Anthony Ostlund, is
realistic about why women may become
disillusioned with the law. “This can be a Nationwide, the ABA reports
challenging career choice for anyone …
[and] it can be harder for women. For a that women make up only
younger woman starting out in private
practice, if you’re looking at having a fam-
22 % of all partners, 18 %
ily or already have a young family, it’s easy of equity partners and just
to give up on private practice. It can feel
like too much.” over a quarter (28 %)
Part of the explanation might be that
women are discovering they can use their
of non-equity partners.
Juris Doctor in other ways, besides practic-
ing law.

Terrie S. Wheeler, MBC, is a regular contributor to Attorney at Law Magazine, and is president of Profession-
al Services Marketing LLC,, a 35-person firm that does business development
coaching for attorneys and provides outsourced marketing departments for smaller and midsized firms.
Jim Bliwas, PSM’s senior marketing and communications strategist, contributed to this article. Reach out to
Terrie at

February 2018 Attorney at Law Magazine® Minnesota | 13